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UNC vs. Notre Dame: Three Things Learned

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This young team seems to be maturing before our very eyes, and at a perfect time.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Notre Dame North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

This year’s Carolina team has been quite a perplexing group to say the least. One week they are getting lit up by Syracuse from deep, and the next they are blowing out Notre Dame by 42 points. One could make the argument, however, that this win against the Irish shows progress considering the fact that their dominant win is coming off the heels of sweeping Duke in the Dean Dome. Let’s hope that this is the case, because today they will go against a Virginia Tech team that is one of the best in the conference....when they actually get to play.

Let’s go ahead and jump into three things that we learned from last night’s impressive victory over Notre Dame.

This was a terrible matchup

It’s really interesting whenever UNC is able to run it back against a team that they barely beat in the regular season and can do what they did last night. The first time Notre Dame played the Heels Leaky Black made a game-winning jumper with nine seconds left to squeak out a win. What’s fascinating is that things looked really similar in the first game compared to the second game: UNC dominated the boards, barely turned the ball over, and made over 70% of their free throws. So then, what was the problem between the regular season game and last night’s? The answer is simple: more shots went in for Carolina, and less went in for Notre Dame.

While that sounds like an oversimplification, there’s really no better way to put it. A large amount of credit belongs to Walker Kessler, who only played five minutes the first time these two teams played. Another factor is that Armando Bacot had a much better game than he did the first game, as he finished this one with 20 points and 13 rebounds compared to the four points and 10 rebounds he had in the regular season game. This all boils down to one conclusion when it comes to UNC vs. Notre Dame: this was a terrible matchup for the Irish, but the Heels didn’t take full advantage in the first game. Sometimes it really is just that simple.

Caleb Love is showing signs of consistency

It’s safe to say that Caleb Love’s freshman campaign has had a lot of ups and downs, and that is to be expected for a combo guard that is learning the point guard position on the college level. If the last couple of games are any indication of what we could hopefully expect for the rest of the season, however, then I think we are finally starting to see the level of growth we have all been waiting for.

Last night Love finished the game with 15 points, four rebounds, six assists, and only one turnover. He did an excellent job protecting the ball and making the right passes, and he took a lot of high-quality shots. Overall he just looked much sharper than we’ve seen him look in previous games, but the million-dollar question remains: can he keep this up? It’s hard to see this same result happening against Virginia Tech, but keep in mind the Hokies also haven’t played since February 27th. There’s no doubting that Love’s defense has been huge for the Heels these days, so we’ll have to wait and see if his offense will be able to keep up later tonight.

UNC may have lucked out with Walker Kessler

Let’s be honest: Walker Kessler would more than likely be a player that we would see on a NBA Draft board if things didn’t get off to such a bad start for his college career. Due to COVID protocols, Kessler’s in-game action was limited for large amounts of the first half of the season. Now that he has gotten used to Roy Williams’ system, he is basically unstoppable on the court. He’s able to start fastbreaks as the ball handler, he’s a solid passer, he has range with his shot, he is a monster on the boards, and his defense is at times completely unfair. Last night he pummeled Notre Dame on both ends of the floor, finishing the game with 16 points, 12 rebounds, a pair of steals, and eight(!!!) blocks. Perhaps even more impressive is that everything he does on defense is done without committing many fouls, which is usually an issue with UNC’s bigs.

The more I watch Kessler play, the more I tell myself this kid belongs in the NBA. However, the problem that I mentioned before is likely what holds him back, but there are also some aspects of his game that could use more development which is terrifying (in a really good way). This is a season where we could’ve easily lost Sharpe and Kessler all at once, but it’s likely that Sharpe will be the only big that goes off to the NBA. With that said, we have gotten a glimpse of what Bacot and Kessler are able to do on the floor at the same time, and it is something worth being excited about. Next season’s team could be extremely dangerous if there are no surprise exits for the pros, and Walker Kessler’s choices after this season ends may be the most important when it comes to what the 2021-22 team’s ceiling is. That is, of course, behind whether or not Caleb Love chooses to stay.